HARRY MAGUIRE wouldn’t claim to be anything like the world’s greatest defender.
He knows he isn’t even the finest in the Premier League.
In fact, you could justifiably claim he wasn’t even the best ball-playing centre-back at Old Trafford.
But in terms of the right man at the right time, it’s hard to think of a better fit than Maguire and Manchester United.
Ever since they made him the costliest defender on the planet, though, the knives have been out.
Overpriced, too slow, wrong choice — if Maguire boots forwards the way the critics have lumped him, he’ll set a new record for red cards too.
First things first. He didn’t set the price and a player is worth only what a buying club want to pay for him, so forget that.
After all, if Virgil van Dijk was sold, he’d go for the thick end of treble the £75million he cost Liverpool just over 18 months ago.
Just as Bernardo Silva, James Maddison, David Brooks and plenty of others besides would cost a hell of a lot more than they did a couple of years back.
That is an irrelevant and pointless argument made by many who should really know better.
But back to Maguire and those who think United have done their dough. Those who reckon they should have signed Matthijs De Ligt instead — and there’s plenty of noise about that.
De Ligt, of course, is the young man who took Europe by storm last year. The guy whose heroics for Ajax made him the world’s must-get centre-back.
There’s no doubt United would have liked him, but there was never a prayer of that. Not with clubs such as Juventus — his eventual destination — and Barcelona in the hunt.
BACK TO BASICS
But given the current situation at Old Trafford, would De Ligt really have been the best answer? Would he have been the man to plug all those defensive leaks?
In all likelihood, missing him was the best thing for them. For in Maguire, they have the perfect man for the job. Not a young Alan Hansen, however good he becomes.
What United need now isn’t so much a Hansen or a Laurent Blanc-style centre-back — more a Nemanja Vidic, John Terry or Jamie Carragher. A man who can, first and foremost, defend. A man who can organise. A man who can lead the backline by example.
A man, in short, like Maguire.
They need someone off the peg, Premier League proven, ready to go from the word go and already up to speed with the English game.
They certainly didn’t need a player who would, however talented, take time to adapt to a different style, in a league with an intensity and pace like nowhere else on earth.
ART OF DEFENDING
They certainly couldn’t afford to have someone bedding in. Not without a rock-solid crop of defenders already there — and that’s something United DON’T have.
And don’t assume that a great player elsewhere in Europe means a great player in the Prem.
The likes of Juan Sebastian Veron, Andriy Shevchenko and Angel Di Maria were all superstars in Italy or Spain, yet couldn’t hack it in England.
That didn’t mean they couldn’t play, just that they couldn’t play over here.
And, incidentally, when De Ligt came up against an “old-fashioned” centre-forward, 34-year-old Fernando Llorente ripped him a new backside in the Champions League semi-final.
Pitch Maguire into that sort of challenge and he’d relish it. And while it’s true that he’s not the quickest, plenty of top-class centre-backs haven’t been grass-scorchers.
READY TO PROVE A POINT
The one thing a centre-back must be capable of is defending. If he can knock a 40-yard pinpoint pass too, great. But first and foremost, defend — and Maguire does that better than most.
It’s funny how all these critics are popping up to the surface right now, like you-know-whats in a swimming pool.
Didn’t hear much from them a year ago when Maguire was being hailed as a shining light in an England team that went to the last four of the World Cup.
And don’t say he wasn’t up against much because 12 months back everyone was raving about how well he’d done, regardless of the opposition.
Of all the centre-backs, up to speed, ready to go and available, United couldn’t have got a better man than Maguire.
How he’ll love proving the point over the next nine months.
NOT SO SUPER LEAGUE
WHEN Catalans and Warrington disgraced rugby league in last week’s game — ‘bout’ would actually be more accurate — we sat back and waited for the fallout. And waited and waited.
Yet the one man hung out to dry was referee James Child, while three men involved in the awful scenes got off on appeal.
Child was demoted to ref Widnes v Toulouse yesterday. There were reds for Warrington’s Sean O’Loughlin and Catalans’ Michael McIlorum, plus four yellow cards.
The players ignored the official and knocked hell out of each other, ultimately sparking fights in the crowd as well.
Of Dragons in the dock, Kenny Edwards was cleared of inciting the crowd, while one-game bans for Brayden Wiliame and Mickael Simon were overturned.
An investigation will go on for weeks and doubtless see fines and a warning about future conduct for both clubs.
It’s a wonder Super League manages to find enough people prepared to referee any more.
FALL OF ROOTY
JOE ROOT has lost five and drawn one of the six Tests under his captaincy against Australia.
The “closest” have been by ten wickets and another of 120 runs. They have been embarrassments.
On day one of the Ashes, England had them 122-8. The foot was on the throat with no weight applied.
As the Aussies fought back, Shane Warne slammed Root’s choice to contain, rather than attack and try to take wickets.
Root was also on the committee which gambled — clearly it was just that — on Jimmy Anderson.
Whatever tests he passed, he hadn’t played competitively for a month and picking him backfired even more disastrously than Harry Kane’s Champions League final selection.
Debate raged over whether Joe Denly, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali or Jonny Bairstow should be axed.
The biggest question should have been whether Root remained as skipper. And the answer should have been a no-brainer.
Being relieved of the job didn’t do Ian Botham or England any harm in 1981.
JUR IN DENIAL
YOU have to admire Jurgen Klopp for being ahead of the game.
After all, he was kicking off a week before the rest of the Premier League.
This time the Liverpool boss was gurning about having to start their season 48 hours ahead of the rest — after finishing it later than most because of the Champions League final.
Not a mention of that first game being at home to Norwich, 2,000-1 outsiders and everyone’s favourite to go straight back down.
For all they will tell you there is no such thing as a gimme in the English game, there is.
Liverpool had it. It was an easier start than the rest of last season’s top six.
Expect more moans about fixture congestion any day.
How unfair that being successful means you play more games.
Still, it won’t be the last whine we hear from the Anfield boss this season.